As you’ve certainly heard, House Republicans voted Thursday night to cut SNAP (better known as food stamps) benefits by approximately $40 billion over 10 years, about $4 billion a year. I know you’re saying: Republicans used to spend $4 billion in less than a week on the Iraq War. Why cut less than $5 a day in food assistance to some of the neediest Americans while millions are still out of work? How dare they consider such a thing when congressmembers — as Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) explains in the video above — get over $100 a day to eat when they’re traveling?
Republicans say the program is littered with fraud, that spending of food stamps will still be double pre-recession levels, even after the cuts.
Studies show that SNAP benefits have some of the “most extensive and rigorous quality control systems” of any government program. There’s a net loss to the government of about 2 percent, compared to the 15 percent in income taxes that go unpaid. So, we could save a lot more by hiring extra IRS agents to track down the money the government is owed. But that’s not fun!
A Moody’s study done at the beginning of the financial crisis found that SNAP benefits are the best money that government can spend to improve the economy, simply because they go to the people who need them most.
Republicans are attacking food stamp recipients for one simple reason: They’re an easy target.
Reviled by the conservative base and disengaged from the political process, the poorer Americans who receive these benefits generally exist on the margins of society — even though some are veterans. The reason the food stamp rolls aren’t shrinking is because for poor Americans, there has basically been no recovery.
Targeting of the vulnerable betrays the GOP’s willingness to afflict the afflicted in the quest to “shrink” government. Or, perhaps, they aren’t aware that there is other bloat in our budget that can be cut without potentially starving our fellow citizens.
Here are five things the House GOP could cut before food stamps, if they actually cared about balancing the budget.
F35 — Joint Strike Fighter
Over the entire course of its development, the Lockheed Martin F-35 will cost taxpayers $1.5 trillion, making it the most expensive weapon system in American history.
And it only flies in good weather.
The plane was designed to replace a fleet of aging jets. But it’s not working out that way.
“…the F-35s that the Marines say they can take into combat in 2015 are not only ill-equipped for combat but will likely require airborne protection by the very planes the F-35 is supposed to replace,” Vanity Fair‘s Adam Ciralsky reports.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) called the development of the Joint Strike Fighter “one of the great national scandals that we have ever had, as far as the expenditure of taxpayers’ dollars are concerned.”
And here’s the best part: it hasn’t been affected by the sequester cuts.
Photo: DVIDSHUB via Flickr.com
War On Drugs
The War On Drugs hasn’t cost as much as the F-35 but it’s certainly done more damage.
Enforcing drug laws costs the United States an estimated $15 billion a year, about $500 a second — or enough to feed some on SNAP benefits for more than 100 days every second.
The result of the attempt to use law enforcement and imprisonment to stop the use of illegal drugs has created a “New Jim Crow” system, says scholar Michelle Alexander. Nearly one-third of black men are likely to spend time in prison, often for non-violent crimes, and will find themselves in permanent second-class citizenship after they get out, she notes.
“More than 25.4 million Americans have been arrested on drug charges since 1980; about one-third of them were black,” Forbes‘ Erik Kain points out.
A coalition of liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans have begun to look at some of the most “unjust” aspects of this so-called war and two states are experimenting with marijuana legalization.
But it will be years before these costs begin to be reined in — likely because beneficiaries of this spending include the increasingly lucrative private prison industry, though they profit even when their beds are empty.
“The U.S. is on track to spend between $620 billion and $661 billion on nuclear weapons and related programs over the next decade,” according to the Ploughshares Fund. It’s not cheap to keep up an arsenal of 7,700 weapons we can never use, as they could destroy the Earth hundreds of times over. And we aren’t just maintaining them, we’re improving them!
“Upgrading just one of the seven types of weapons in the stockpile, the B61 bomb, is likely to cost $10 billion over five years, according to the Pentagon,” The Washington Post‘s Dana Priest reports. “The next two types of bombs in line for modification are estimated to cost a total of at least $5 billion. By comparison, the operating budget for Fairfax County government next year will cost about $3.5 billion, including its vaunted school system.”
Ronald Reagan famously wanted to get rid of nuclear weapons (if he could keep his Star Wars system that still doesn’t really exist).
We don’t have to go that far. We could save billions by slightly shrinking our nuclear submarine fleet and cutting the land-based intercontinental ballistic missile force from 420 to 300. Those two steps alone would pay for half of the SNAP benefits the GOP just cut.
Photo: Bernt Rostad via Flickr.com
SNAP benefits have historically been included in the Farm Bill. This year, House Republicans voted to separate the two, so they could focus on punishing people who receive food stamps while continuing to keep the benefits that go to wealthy farmers like Rep. Steven Fincher (R-TN).
The National Review Online’s Henry Olsen explains the waste that Republicans haven’t touched in the Farm Bill:
America’s crop-insurance program is obscene. Farmers receive government subsidies averaging 70 percent of their premiums to purchase insurance that protects them against declining crop value. There’s no income limit for this subsidy: The vast majority of this taxpayer money goes to farmers who make in excess of $250,000 a year. The insurance policies are sold by private companies, and the government also pays those firms about 20 percent of the premium cost to cover their expenses. The companies get to keep the profits from the policies, so taxpayer money makes crop insurance a largely risk-free investment for insurance companies. Thus, the government uses taxpayer money to pay rich farmers to buy insurance from wealthy insurance companies, whom the government also pays to sell the policies to the farmers. Talk about a “free” market.
Yes, that’s a conservative writing.
Even the far-right Heritage Foundation, which loves the cuts to the poor, wants reforms to what we pay rich farmers that would save us billions.
“What possible basis can be found to justify preserving subsidies for affluent farmers while cutting them for the poor?” asks New York Magazine‘s Jonathan Chait. “What explanation offers itself other than the party’s commitment to waging class war?”
Photo: Kecko via Flickr.com
Tax Breaks For The Rich
Every time Republicans start pretending they care about the deficit, we have to remind them of two things. 1) They took a record surplus and turned it into a record deficit; and 2) If they actually wanted a deficit deal, they could have one. All they have to do is agree to get rid of tax breaks for the rich.
If we capped the amount the rich can save tax-free in their IRAs at $3 million, we would save $9 billion over 10 years. You could raise twice the amount that the GOP cut from food stamps by getting rid of one deduction, the tax break for mortgages on second homes. You could save as much as $100 billion if you taxed hedge fund managers like they were nurses.
Getting rid of these breaks would hurt poor Mitt Romney — but even he proposed limiting deductions for the rich. Of course, he wanted to give himself a nice tax break to go with it.
Photo: Adam Glanzman via Flickr.com